Idlewild Cut Chapter

copy-of-summer-breaksIt’s a New Year already for some, and for others, it’s on the horizon. Want to ring in the New Year with some bonus materials? Here you go! This was originally Chapter 20 of Idlewild. We get to meet Asher’s parents and get some insight into Asher’s relationship with his  faith. Laura Stone (who writes amazing books y’all) described Asher as “a roll-your-sleeves-up kind of you-can’t-tell-me-what-to do person” which is totally true. This chapter gives us a taste of those origins.


“Asher,” Tyler says, swinging through the door, “there’s a couple out in the restaurant asking for you.”

“Regulars?” Asher asks without looking at him.

“I don’t think so. I’ve never seen them before,” Tyler says he picks up and puts down a paperweight that’s on the desktop. He rifles through some papers and shuffles them around before putting them back down. Asher leans back in his chair and watches him. Tyler has seemed a little off ever since he went to his mother’s for dinner last week, and Asher can’t put his finger on what it is. He thinks that normally he’d ask, but with everything new between them and undefined, the ground between them is boggy and unstable. He waits for Tyler to look him in the eyes but he doesn’t.

“And they want me?”  Asher asks

“That’s what they said,” Tyler says.

“Alrighty-then.” Asher stands brushes past him on his way out of the office. Asher would be the first to admit that he doesn’t understand what is going on between them. But he wants to. While that push and pull between them usually exciting, some days it’s confusing. When they’re together Asher feels more alive than he has in years. Tyler is addictive; no matter how many times Asher says he’s going to sit him down to talk and figure this thing out, Tyler touches him and what he’s told himself is right dissipates under those finger; Tyler seems the most right thing in these moments. But he hesitates to push Tyler emotionally, afraid that he might spook him or break some spell. Instead he waits quietly and watches.

Asher doesn’t spare a thought for who the couple may be, which he berates himself for as soon as gets to the front of house. Sitting in a booth tucked into the front corner by the window are his parents. His father is slowly sipping a mug of his usual straight up coffee; black, no sugar and no cream. His mother has her hands folded neatly on the table as she watches the thin crowd of Christmas sightseers stream past the window.

He wonders what it took for his father to convince her to come out here. What she’s thinking right now. If she feels safe, how threatened by her memories of Detroit, as well as the memories she’s been handed by her family throughout her life.

“Hey! What are you doing here?” he asks, infuse his tone with happiness. He must not do a very good job. His father’s mouth turns down a little bit; it’s part rueful and part displeased. Isaac Schenck’s face was always the most expressive Asher had ever seen – until he met Tyler. His father can appear both happy and sad. Confused. Angry…any number of things, and often all at once. He’s terrible about talking about his feelings however. Either he thinks his face does enough talking, or he can’t control it.

Still Asher slides into the booth next to his mother. He smiles when the familiar scent of her favorite perfume, floral and vanilla, wraps around him. They both look well; his father’s hair thins more and more every time he sees him, but his lean frame is healthy and fit. His mother, Julie, is still tiny and lovely with soft curves and rich brown hair it is shorter.

“We’ve come to give you a little belated Hanukah present,” his mother says. She rifles through her oversized purse until she finds two flat packages. They’re wrapped in blue and white paper; the corner of one has torn, a little damaged in transit. Asher’s smile is automatic; he hadn’t expected this. He had toyed with the idea of driving out to West Bloomfield to see his parents for a night or perhaps a meal but hadn’t pick up the phone to make those plans.

He picks up the package. “Thank you,” Asher says. He opens the present gently, lifting the tape with a careful finger and trying not to damage the paper. It’s a habit born of many years of his mother trying to save paper to reuse it. She always hated the idea of all that pretty paper going to waste. The care is useless — the paper is already torn — but still he does it. In his mother’s presence he becomes a little boy again.

Inside he finds a bag of Hanukah gelt and two CD’s. His parents have never caught up to the idea that CDs have mostly phased out, that now everybody stored their music on various kinds of technology. His computer doesn’t have a DVD drive. This is music he’ll never listen to either.

But that’s okay because it is the thought that counts. His parents have made the effort, his mom has come down into a city she’s terrified of. He could count on both hands the number of times his mother has been here as long as he remembers. She grew up in Detroit as a girl, and yet he has no stories of hers from that time.

Although he had not expected his parents and although he knew there was a slight chance – the slightest chance – that he would go to see them, he’s glad now that he decided to get them presents, even if he planned on mailing them.

“If you’ll give me a minute I’ll run upstairs and get your presents,” he says. This makes his father smile. Maybe it’s because Asher is extending a little bit of thoughtfulness and care. Asher has withheld himself and his own love from his parents. As a child – and if he admits as a teenager and young man – he always ached for his father’s unconditional love, but thought it wasn’t granted. He came to understand, especially with John’s guidance, that it wasn’t unconditional love he was searching for. It was a sense of family that he always longed for without understanding why, or what. Perhaps it was influence of television and media of stories told by his friends of what parenting and love and a home should feel like.

Asher was incredibly lucky to find this with John, and perhaps he should have been able to extend the kindness he found there to his parents. His coming out was very difficult for them and it had been a struggle for them to figure out how to put their faith together with who he was. Their own reconciliation between their Jewish faith and their desire to provide a community that would still welcome him took a long time; too long for a scared teenage boy. As an adult he can recognize the complexity of unconditional love because his parents chose to change everything about the way they understood the world in order to support him. But watching that struggle while in the middle of his own very painful fight was isolating for him as a teenager. Asher still practiced and believed then, but he recognizes that this was when he started to feel a rift with his faith.

Asher passes through the kitchen at a fast clip. He waves to Claudia when she starts to talk to him to stave her off. He thunders up the stairs and when he gets to his room he has to rifle through many things in order to find the presents. Apparently he had had them in the plastic set of drawers where he keeps his clothes. In his hurry he causes a few out to tumble out, messing up the rest. But he smiles. Just knowing that the clothes were folded means Tyler’s been through his laundry again, which warms him. He’s not sure if Tyler’s interference is a comment on his own housekeeping skills, but he recognizes Tyler’s innate desire to make people happy as well as to make order out of his world. Tyler told him recently how much he loves Asher’s smell. Imagining Tyler holding his shirt to catch the slightest lingering smell curls, lovely and welcome, in his stomach. It closeness that goes beyond quick fucks and fleeting touches.

The present he bought for his parents aren’t wrapped yet and Asher has no wrapping paper. He searches for some newspaper though he’s perfectly aware his mother won’t appreciate that. He doesn’t have much choice but to carry them down unwrapped.

Asher sits again and hands his father his gift – a Tigers baseball hat – and hands his mother the bottle of Joop! perfume. Whenever he catches that scent in the restaurant or in a store, he thinks of her with fondness. This year has made this nostalgia stronger than resentment.

“I’m sorry they’re not wrapped,” he says.

“That’s fine honey,” his mother says. “This is so thoughtful. I was almost out of it.”

“Thank you son,” his father says. He looks into Asher’s eyes and it’s clear it’s sincere.

There’s a moment of easiness after Asher give them the presents. They make comfortable small talk until Asher decides to ask if they want to stay to eat.

“Sure honey. That would be nice,” his mother says. His father wants to argue but he takes a breath and then nods.

From across the restaurant he can see Claudia and Tyler behind the bar chatting while Tyler wipes down the bottles and sets them back on the shelves. The restaurant isn’t too busy – only about a quarter full. When Tyler catches his eye, Asher nods him over. Tyler grabs two menus then threads through the tables toward them lightly and gracefully. Asher has watched his body for months; it’s a marvel – awkward and off with a rhythm when he dances, but still somehow eye-catching. In moments when he’s not over-thinking and when he’s completely unselfconscious there’s a fluid loveliness to the way he moves his limbs.

“Hello folks!” Tyler says brightly. “How are we all doing today?”

Oh, Asher is so smitten. He hates to use that word: he’s a 32 year old man — almost 10 years older than Tyler — and that’s not at all what this was meant to be. But Tyler’s charisma can’t be denied. He never speaks like this when he’s not on the floor. His body language is so different. Tyler’s changeability intrigues Asher more than he cares to admit. So many times he thinks that Tyler is a puzzle to be taken apart or to be put back together; Asher is never quite sure and that keeps him so interested.

Immediately he sees that his father has a reaction to Tyler. Asher is so comfortable with and used to the way that Tyler carries himself; the light lilting sweetness to his voice, the way he holds his hands and smiles when he talks. He can’t imagine anyone meeting Tyler and not assuming that he’s gay. For a man with so many facets, there are some Tyler rarely changes.

Asher loves that.

But it’s the sort of thing that his father has a terrible time hiding a reaction to. It had taken so much for him to accept Asher – so much more work for him that was for his mother. But Asher was in no way obvious. He never had to hide that about himself.

Before Asher can say anything though, Tyler sees it. Maybe it’s a slight stiffening and his father’s limbs or the face he almost disguises but quite catch. It’s fascinating how Tyler’s posture immediately changes. He hands out the menus and when he speaks again there’s a subtle difference, the light lisp is gone and the way he shapes his speech so that it has a completely different cadence. Perhaps it’s only obvious to Asher because he spends so much time with Tyler. He hopes his parents won’t catch the difference, but he does. It makes him sad and so resentful yet again. He resists the urge to confront his father

Asher holds his tongue and takes a deep breath. Gives his parents a moment to peruse the menu. Tyler asks if they need suggestions and points out his favorite. His mother smiles and orders that. His father does not. When Tyler walks away it’s as if he’s a different man. At the bar Claudia must have been watching them; Asher can tell by her eyebrows and her still hands are holding the damp rag Tyler has been using to wipe the bottles.

Asher tears his gaze away back to find his father examining him. Really looking, as if he can see what Asher’s been thinking. For one wild moment Asher wants to lay everything bare, to embarrass him. There’s knowing on paper that someone is gay and then knowing that a person actually does gay things. That he does them with men like Tyler, who he finds unbearably sexy, who he finds sweet and captivating and who draws him so often, a moth helpless to flame. When they’re together all Asher can think about is how beautiful Tyler is when he submits to his own pleasure.

Claudia brings their food out, for which Asher is glad. Asher hopes Tyler’s choice not to come back out and to put some distance between the perceptions others place on his body, the slightest violence that people’s judgement and dislike do when they land on his skin and worm their way into his heart. Asher remembers fighting that feeling in his own home; months and months of struggle with his identity with a knowledge that eventually he could longer hide who he was. But Asher’s had a whole hell of a lot of privilege in his natural presentation. Men like Tyler often suffer microaggressions from the moment of a first glance.

Asher does his best to wind up their lunch, impatient to leave the table. He does love his parents, but he has a limit. Seeing his father’s reaction to Tyler has not helped. He’s glad that his parents came and that they had a small moment to reconnect, but he wants them out of the bar now. Idlewild is safe space that he and John created. The pride sticker on the door and a staff that won’t compromise should indicate that. Asher is always mild mannered but he has asked patrons who make homophobic comments or behaved in particularly degrading or hurtful ways toward any member of his staff to leave immediately. He can’t be as harsh with his father as that, but he has to resist the strong urge to do so.


This year has been difficult in so many ways. But I’ve been lucky to start the year publishing a book I’m very proud of (What it Takes) and ending the year publishing this book. The support I get from my publisher (Interlude Press) and from readers and friends is priceless. Thank you all for coming on this ride with me!

Many thanks to Naomi Tajedler for double checking this passage.


Hush, What it Takes and Idlewild are all available for purchase through multiple retailers (links on my book page). Order through Interlude Press for an upgrade on shipping.

 

Now Available for Pre-Order: Idlewild

IDLEWILD COVER

When Idlewild was a nascent but tangible dream, finally Asher understood what he could do with that fire: create change in a city so many people had given up on.

Summary

Asher Schenck and his husband John opened their downtown gastropub at the start of Detroit’s revival. Now, five years after John’s sudden death, Asher is determined to pull off a revival of his own. In a last ditch attempt to bring Idlewild back to life, he fires everyone and hires a new staff. Among them is Tyler Heyward, a recent college graduate in need of funds to pay for med school. Tyler is a cheery balm for Asher’s soul, and their relationship quickly shifts from business to friendship. When they fall for each other, it is not the differences of race or class that challenge their love, but the ghosts and expectations of their respective pasts. Will they remain stuck or move toward a life neither of them has allowed himself to dream about?

Price: $16.99 print / $6.99 multi-format ebook
Release Date: December 1, 2016
Details: Trade paperback, 6″x9″
Pages/Words: 250 // 72,500
ISBN: 978-1-945053-07-8 print // 978-1-945053-08-5 ebook
US/Canada:  If you place both the print and ebook versions in your cart and order before December 1, 2016, you will receive the multi-format eBook for free with the discount code IDLEWILD.
International: Order the print edition by February 1, 2016 from your favorite book retailer and receive free multi-format eBook by submitting a copy of your receipt to contact@interludepress.com.

Giveaway! If you show me proof of purchase, you’ll receive a personalized postcard from me and be entered to win a signed copy of Idlewild!

Banner Time

Let’s talk visual inspiration for What it Takes; in pictures and an excerpt.

(Say it like you’d say Hammer Time and then sing that song to yourself for a moment. Go on, it’ll feel great!)

~*~

        “The wind is up, but the beach is deserted. This has always been a quieter one, thanks to a longer walk through the dunes. There are sandbars far into the water at high tide and the sand is mostly exposed at low tide. A line of pebbles sweeps in an arc above the waterline, and below it is a second arc of seaweed. The tide is mostly out. The dunes wear their usual blend of pretty purple and white flowers and sharp grasses. 

       Milo sits a few feet above the rock line and pulls on his sweater. The sun is blinding off the water, but he wants to be blinded, wants to be forced out of his headspace. It’s so quiet, save for the agitated water. 

       Legs crossed, Milo pulls himself up straight. He closes his eyes and ignores the swirling colors behind his eyelids. He counts a slow breath in, three beats, then exhales for three. Takes a three-beat pause before breathing in. He imagines his breath as a triangle and projects that shape from his body. He lets his senses take in the beach, the quiet, the water, the grit of the sand whipped up by the waves. Tension seeps out of him when he exhales. He lets it go. Nothing is taken from him, nothing is forced. He can count these breaths as he wants. He suspends himself in the pauses: pictures a white canvas, bleeding jumbled.images of worry and anxiety, reds and blacks and angry oranges slowly dripping off, as if washed away by rain. 

       When he opens his eyes again, he’s calmer. That buzzing, anxious feeling is gone. The seaweed has been swallowed by the sea. Tide’s coming in. Milo watches it. The water begins to run in a slow progressing rivulet in a channel between the rocks. As the water creeps ever closer, it rises over uneven sandbars until it meets in the middle of that small channel, eventually overflowing and overrunning the strip of sand in the middle. Before it’s gone, Milo walks into the cold water. The rocks are rough under the soles of his feet. They’re thin-skinned against the sand; when he was a kid they’d been callused and used to beach and forest.
        He searches out bigger, colorful rocks and tosses them up the beach. He finds a perfect half shell with pinks blending into white in the center. In the middle is a bright blue fleck of sand. He picks that up too.
        By the path into the dunes and back toward his car is a wrecked piece of driftwood, hollow and pale from sun-bleaching. He arranges the rocks on top, makes a pattern of colors with the
shell on the end, a frangible beautiful thing, and then takes a picture. His mom will like that. The memory of making art of beach flotsam with Andrew haunts him.” p 145, What it Takes

~*~

Last night I had awesome fun taking over the Interlude Press twitter and website, answering great questions about Hush, What it Takes and my secret third book.

I’ll be rounding some of that up for y’all later, but I wanted to share this banner I made for social media (other than this website, which was made by actual professionals, so it looks more professional).

An anonymous reader asked: I want to visit the setting of your book – it sounds so serene and beautiful. Is it a place you’ve always just imagined or is there an actual place that inspired it?

My quick twitter answer was that the scenery and natural settings were inspired my visit to Wellfleet for a poetry retreat a few years ago. I’ve wanted to use the inspiration I got from that visit for a while. Wellfleet didn’t work, logistically, for this novel, but I wanted to use what I saw and experienced — so I invented the town of Santuit.

While this is an invented town, the pictures in this banner are my own, taken from my trip. I have to admit that the log with stones was something I stumbled upon, I didn’t actually make that art the way that Milo did. That shell with the beautiful blue piece of sand is something I found as well. Unfortunately I didn’t take pictures of the forest they play in, but I assure you I did treck in there and see a lovely isolated pond; I did get to feel the hush of the trees and birds and the stillness of places people weren’t in.

So for those of you who were curious about visuals, inspiration and place, here is some of the magic I experienced and built Milo’s healing around.

 

 

I wrote a book and then….

Crickets chirped into the internet ether on this blog.

Pretty sure I’ve done this twice now, but I’d have to go back to the days after Hush was released to be sure.

The thing about it isn’t that I don’t love blogging (I do), but that I am just incredibly BAD at figuring out how to time things. I wrote Hush and somehow managed to align stars so that I was in serious edit phases at the same time as I was writing What it Takes. The day Hush when up for presale? Was the day I had to turn in What it Takes as a manuscript. I was very tired and emotional that day. The next day I pitched a couple of ideas to my publisher because apparently I can’t help myself? Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of time to write this third book I am working on. Not thankfully, I didn’t really think through what it would be like to try to write a book while IN grad school.

Not easy. At least not for me. I juggled grad school and writing the third book for NaNo (or well, the biggest chunk), but have been struggling to get it all together since. And in the time between those, What it Takes came out. A book coming out is a huge emotional investment and event, and the days after are so weird. Like…is anyone reading? Did they like it? What’s happening in the great old world?? The only thing one can do is check Amazon rankings to see if they change at all and obsessively check Goodreads for reviews (people don’t review as much on Amazon? Not sure why, but I’ll tell you guys, it’s pretty helpful to the author, because once you hit a certain number — 50 maybe? — your book starts to pop up as a suggested book which = more exposure).

I was very lucky after What it Takes came out to get such lovely reviews, it has made me so happy to know that you guys loved it! Keep on reviewing, it makes our days and helps our books 😀

That said, I am so close to a finish line with book #3 I can taste it. But I’ve been trying to do well in school (or well, keep up on readings, I do well in school as a rule), juggle new job responsibilities, and right now, deal with some really heavy life news.

Hence, a tiny bit of silence.

That said, Hush and What it Takes just had some great pre-Valentines sales a bit ago, so if you read and want to chat or ask question or anything, I LOVE that. I love interracting with people!

If I’ve read YOUR book recently, and haven’t reviewed (or perhaps not even recently, I owe Melissa Graves a review for her AMAZING book, Tainted Heart, that came out in OCTOBER how awful am I?) it’ll come! I’m just very behind and overwhelmed. You’ll fine out the most about what’s going on in my insane life at the moment if you follow me on twitter. Apparently I can only handle a commitment to 140 characters at a time 😉 I’m @JudeSierra.

In the meantime, if you have NO CLUE what I’m talking about, both Hush and What it Takes are available for purchase now at:  Interlude Press Web Store
AmazonAll RomanceBarnes & NobleBook Depository, Apple iBookstore, Smashwords, and Independent Bookstores

 

 

Roundup? Wind down? Shake it?

Who knows what’s happening with me right now? I don’t. I’m in that weird vortex of being behind all of the important things, gearing up for a short family vacay AND my back injury is flaring up ::FABULOUS::

Right now though, the point is that I wanted to thank EACH AND EVERY wonderful blog that hosted my What it Takes Virtual Blog Tour.

I gotta tell you guys: book bloggers are amazing. In the romance genre it can be so easy to become overwhelmed by picking out books to read. There are so many! The thing about book blogs, particularly when you find ones whose reading tastes seem to align with yours, is that you get book recommendations and the chance to discover new writers. I highly encourage y’all to stop in and explore book blogs when we do VBTs because these people do an awesome job keeping up to date on what’s out there and helping authors get more visibility.

Second order of business: THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU to every reviewer who left a review for my book or promoted it. I can’t thank y’all enough. As of right now, What it Takes is hanging out on two lists on Goodreads: Gay Romance featuring Second Chances and 2016 LGBT/queer New Adult. If you guys feel like boosting me, please head over and vote for my book. These kinds of things get authors more visibility which is great for us. Also, if you’ve read it, I love reviews! We all do. Feedback is super helpful and lovely on multiple fronts. Again, visibility. Second, when a writer is feeling in the dumps about their writing because they’re roadblocked on a project (Ahem), it helps to know you’re doing something right. Very motivating!

To check out the great blogs that hosted me and to find out all kinds of gems about me in interviews you might not have known, head over to the following:

14-Jan: Book Lovers 4Ever, Lee Brazil, Inked Rainbow Reads

15-Jan: Havan Fellows, Love Bytes, Hearts on Fire

18-Jan: Elisa – My Reviews and Ramblings, A.M. Leibowitz

19-Jan: Velvet Panic, Scattered Thoughts & Rogue Words

20-Jan: Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews, The Novel Approach, Kirsty Loves Books

21-Jan: Molly Lolly, MM Good Book Reviews

22-Jan: BFD Book Blog, Happily Ever Chapter

25-Jan: Nautical Star Books, My Fiction Nook

26-Jan: Emotion In Motion, Bayou Book Junkie

27-Jan: Full Moon Dreaming, Alpha Book Club, QUEERcentric Books

What it Takes is currently available at:

 

Now Available: What it Takes

It is officially time: What it Takes is up for sale!!

I hope that you guys love this book as much as I do, and if you do, please feel free to leave a review on Amazon (it’s actually super helpful) or Goodreads 😀

“STARRED REVIEW. Sierra uses rich characterization and lyrical writing to infuse this slow-building romance with depth, humor, and pathos. Readers will savor every dip and peak of Milo and Andrew’s relationship as they balance the need for safety with the necessary risk of pursuing happiness.“ — Publishers Weekly

* * *

The water quiets him with its rhythmic movement. The tide starts to let out, and the sun peeks through scattering clouds. Milo is startled out of his calm when he hears a laugh peal down the beach. The couple he saw earlier is closer now, kicking water at each other in a playful game. He watches as they come closer, and as the sun makes a sudden brilliant appearance, he recognizes with a shock that he knows one of them.

Because one of them is Andrew.

Milo has to resist the urge to run when he sees Andrew stop stock-still in the water, not moving when his companion splashes him.

Milo closes his eyes and then pushes himself to stand. Sand clings to his pants and he takes a moment to brush it off, internally scrambling to figure out the protocol for this. Excitement mixes with panic. His heart is in his throat like an angry hummingbird, choking his breath. The seven years between them was a chasm he learned not to want to cross, much less approach, and now he’s suddenly on its edge.

* * *

Summary

The connection was instantaneous. Moments after Milo Graham’s family relocates to Cape Cod, he meets Andrew Witherell—launching a lifelong friendship built on a foundation of deep bonds, secret forts, and plans for the future.

When Milo is called home from college to attend his domineering father’s funeral, he and Andrew finally act on their mutual attraction. But doubtful of his worth, Milo decides to sever all ties with his childhood friend.

Circumstances send both men home again years later, and their long held feelings will not be denied. But will they have what it takes to find lasting love?

Available now from the IP Web Store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBookstore,Smashwords, All Romance eBooks, Book Depository, and an indie bookstore near you.

International Special: Order the print edition of What It Takes by March 14, 2016 from your favorite book retailer and receive free multi-format eBook by submitting a copy of your receipt to contact@interludepress.com.
ISBN: 978-1-941530-59-7
Pages: 274
Price: $16.99 US print*/ $6.99 US multi-format eBook

Stay tuned for highlights from my Virtual Blog Tour, in which I answer lots of great and funny questions about occasional random stuff! Follow along and you’ll find opportunities to win prizes!

 

Capturing the Romance and Atmosphere

I was sitting around today being inordinately excited about the fact that What it Takes comes out on Thursday when I realized….I have no idea if people have gotten a chance to see the back of the book! That might sound like a weird concern, but the back of my book is really beautiful and I want my artist, Nelli I. to get all of the credit for her stunning work.

For_Jude

What I love about this is how the art captures the idea that there is more than one tone to this book. The front really captures a moment: Milo and Andrew’s sacred space, their hideout, in the beautiful woods that Andrew teaches Milo to love and know. This is their escape and the art felt like it really caught that.

But this book is about more than their childhood and that space they carve out as teens: it’s romantic. And in my opinion the setting could not be more visually romantic in real life. The Cape is stunning. There are so many different landscapes and spots that really provided me with an opportunity to give this story a lush, romantic and healing (I find the ocean to be healing) backdrop.

The art on the back of this book captures that romance perfectly. I love the way it fits seamlessly next to the forest next to it, even though it’s a completely different location. And I especially love that it’s clear we’re looking at this beach coming out of the woods (ahhaaaa I sense a metaphor).  The colors are perfect and for each cover, capture tone and atmosphere for the story within beautifully.

One of my favorite things about working with Interlude Press is how talented our artists are and how spot on our art director is as we develop concepts for the books. We get to work with our team and as authors we get to be a part of the process, which is awesome. C.B. Messner, our art director, just hits it out of the ballpark. Check out IP’s upcoming titles and you’ll see just how fantastic she is.

What it Takes is currently available for pre-order and will be out Jan. 14th.

Enter to win a copy of What it Takes in the Goodreads giveaway!

 

Secret Forts

As we near the release of What it Takes, I’ve been sharing tiny snippets on Twitter — I’m tagging #WhatitTakes, and posting one a day. Head on over, I’m @judesierra.

As well, I’ve been sharing some excerpts here! I wanted to share a pivotal moment in Milo and Andrew’s childhood: when they build their fort in the woods. This is a spot that becomes very important to them as they grow up. So much happens there; I always like to imagine that the walls of this tiny haven they build for themselves hold secrets even I’m not privy to.

~*~

They’re in the woods one day in July when they come into a small clearing. Milo has been keeping complaints about the humidity and bugs to himself. He wants to hang out with Andrew and if this is the best he can get, he’ll take it. Andrew comes alive when they’re out here, which is awesome. God knows Milo could use some happiness too.

“You good?” Andrew asks. He looks around the clearing, then sits carefully on what’s left of a fallen tree. Milo kicks at a tuft of grass.

“I’m fine.”

“Milo,” Andrew says in that voice he gets, the one that’s knowing and superior.

“I’m fine. Looking forward to school. Less time at home, you know? It’s close but not close enough, and it’s making me crazy.”

Andrew looks at him for a long moment, then away. His eyes explore the fringe of woods, and the scraggly wildflowers in the sunlight. “We should build something out here.”

“Huh?” Milo gives up and stands next to him. A line of sweat slides down his temple, and he wipes it away.

“Like a fort?” Andrew shoots him a shy and hopeful look. Milo resists the urge to point out that they aren’t kids anymore and that they’re too old for that kind of play, because he doesn’t want to hurt Andrew’s feelings. “I know it’s lame. But come on, it’ll be fun!”

“How will we do that? We need wood and supplies and, like, to know how to build stuff.”

“We’ll figure it out.” Andrew’s face brightens; Milo is terrible at resisting this sort of persuasion. “And then we’ll have a place no one knows about. It’ll be our thing.” Andrew looks away then and shrugs. “That sounded wrong. I didn’t mean—”

“No! No, that’s cool.” The thought of a secret place is appealing. If they do this, it’ll be somewhere Milo can go when everyone is busy and he can’t go to their houses. Plus, the thought of planning something to build is exciting. “So we’ll need a plan.”

“Blah,” Andrew complains. He starts circling the clearing.

“How do you plan to accomplish this without— ”

“A plan? I’m kidding. Come on, let’s find a spot. We can go home and make the best plan and it’ll be like a little wet dream for you.”

Milo blushes and laughs and only looks away for a second before looking for an ideal spot.

#

The fort takes longer to build than Andrew anticipated. The wood was expensive, and they had to figure out how to pay for it, and also, come on, they aren’t master builders yet. Despite all of Milo’s drawn plans—the first drafts roughly scratched into dirt, then, as they sat on the beach, into shifting sands that proved to be a terrible sketch pad, and finally on paper—the process was a whole lot of trial and error.

“It’s not all that big,” Milo says when they’re finally, for the first time, seated inside their little creation.

“It’s fine.” Andrew is unpacking a cooler of snacks and pop he brought for the occasion.

Milo inspect their handiwork. “There’s a huge gap over here.”

“Oh my god, Mr. Perfection, enjoy the moment.” Andrew kicks him in the ankle.

“No wait, there’s an exposed nail; let me find the hammer—”

“Milo,” Andrew says in his most stern voice, which isn’t that stern at all when it cracks. He clears his throat. “Shut up, sit down and drink your Coke. We can fix that later.”

Milo sighs and sits down. Andrew can tell he’s working very hard not to examine the fort for more flaws.

“We’ll be here again, you know,” Andrew says.  “We have time to fix things up if we want. For now, it’s mostly done; it’s awesome. We’re awesome.”

“Yeah. True.” Milo smiles; his hair is a shaggy mess and his face is spotted with pimples that have come and gone as they’ve started to hit puberty. His shirt is dirty, they’re both sweating and it’s sweltering in the fort—even though it’s in the shade, the heat of their bodies in the confined space is driving the temperature up to uncomfortable. Milo is right—it is small, and being so close to Milo makes a completely different heat suffuse his body. It’s confusing and new and unwelcome, and, if he doesn’t distract himself immediately, will be very obvious.

Andrew distracts himself by looking over their creation. The wooden floor is rough enough to need more sanding. The walls are made of mismatched wooden boards—some bought and some scavenged—that don’t fit together perfectly, especially around the small window and door. One day, when it’s not about a billion degrees, Andrew wants to paint the walls inside. Milo looks up to examine the roof while they finish lunch, and Andrew contemplates whether making some sort of sign outside the fort would be too childish.

It’s far from perfect, but still, for that moment, Andrew can’t imagine that he’s ever been happier.

~*~

What it Takes is currently available for pre-order and will be out Jan. 14th.

Enter to win a copy of What it Takes in the Goodreads giveaway!

Perhaps a New Start

Happy New Year to all of you lovely readers! I hope this year brings you many things — good health, good friends, love and great books! To start the year off, I thought I’d offer you an excerpt and a little insight into one of my main characters: Milo.

In 14 days, What it Takes will be hitting the shelves (so to speak), and I wanted to share a little bit about the book with you guys. A theme in What it Takes seems very apropos for this day: new beginnings, fresh starts, and goodbyes.

Personally, I don’t make New Years resolutions. I stopped years ago after I had a particularly bad period in my life and realized that making a promise on one day that I was bound to forget or let go of wasn’t as effective in changing my life and going in the direction I *needed* to go for healing and peace. So I made myself a promise that *every day* could be a new one. I forget this all the time, but when I remember, this is a time when I can take a breath and remind myself that this moment is a new start. I generally focus this energy on a desire to be a kinder person and to do my best at achieving my goals.

Milo and I share many things. We come from similar family pasts, and many of his struggles are things I went through. As well, a lot of the way he shaped his healing as an adult was inspired by my own journey in letting go of particular demons and healing. Perhaps my journey took longer and had a lot more painful steps, but I tried hard to give Milo genuine healing and coping skills.

One of the hardest things we have to do in life to heal or to grow past a painful past is to allow ourselves to let go and to move forward. Sometimes this means saying goodbye: to a person, to a place, to a dream, to a resentment. Doesn’t have to be all, but the message is the same.

Milo’s father’s death is a big turning point for him. It’s a place in his life where he can chose to go in many directions. Where the biggest source of his trauma is no longer physically present. In the following scene, we see the beginning of that conversation between Milo and Andrew, in which they talk about the opportunity this moment presents Milo and what that could mean for his future. Which goodbyes might be good for him, and what things might not be able to let go of.

~*~

Light filters between the ill-fitted boards cobbling their fort together; it filters through the trees from afar, registering as a small twinkle until he comes close enough to see clearly. There’s a blanket over the open square that was the lookout window. Milo can’t help but think that nothing has changed, yet nothing is the same because he’s not the same boy who built this sanctuary and walked through the framed door into a world of make-believe Andrew could always craft so easily and vividly.

Milo clears his throat before stepping in. Andrew is sitting with his legs curled in the far corner, huddled into a fleece blanket. A lantern casts light and shadows around the small room. It’s small enough that there’s not enough room to sit without bumping knees or feet.

Andrew’s sleepy-eyed and mussed; he looks small under the blanket that envelops him.

“How long have you been here?” Milo asks, keeping his voice low.

“I don’t know,” Andrew whispers back. His lips tremble in the cold. Milo moves to get closer, but Andrew gestures him back. Milo settles back with a sigh.

“It’s not that I don’t—” Andrew tips up a shoulder, and his face is rueful. “I thought we should talk.”

Milo wraps himself in his own blanket, covers the lantern and knocks it over. Once he’s untangled and righted it, he’s temporarily blinded by the direct glare. He blinks; when he looks around he notices how much darker the walls are than he remembers.

“Hey,” he says softly, nudging Andrew’s knee. “You painted.”

Andrew looks up, and Milo can see him swallowing. “Yeah, I did.”

“When?”

“When I came home for the long weekend in October.” Andrew’s fingers trail down the wall. In the night, the walls look black except where the lantern reveals a deep blue. Above his head are scatters of light pricks and moons and planets.

“Finding your way?” Milo jokes lightly. Andrew has always found his way by the stars, not using standard constellation maps, but his own visions.

“Searching for Cygnus,” Andrew says. Milo’s not sure which one that is, only that the irony in his tone means something.

They don’t say anything, letting the night settle over their tiny retreat like its own blanket. Milo lets this place, a place that was always theirs—one that they’ve outgrown—settle him. He dropped out of sleep heavily; that something’s missing feeling startled him until he realized it was Andrew. That disoriented him even more.

He takes time, now, to look him over. That uneasy sense that they’ve both changed irrevocably in the months since September has dissipated. Andrew doesn’t look any different—he’s the boy Milo has always known. Well, man. They’re supposed to be men now, forging into adult lives away from school and their parents.

“I can’t tell what I’m feeling,” Andrew says.

“Yeah, I’m sort of there myself.”

“It’s cold. This is dumb,” Andrew opens his blanket and arranges himself, inviting Milo to share his body heat. They shuffle and tangle until they’re perfectly fitted in a space a shade too small. This is the shape of my childhood, too tight around me. But Andrew makes it okay.

“Are you okay?” Milo asks.

“Of course I am.” There’s a tiny thread suggesting otherwise in the words, though.

“How is this going to work?”

Andrew’s fingers slide between Milo’s, tracing the beds of his fingernails and the palm of his hand. “I think you have to say goodbye.”

“I didn’t mean home. I meant us.”

~*~

What it Takes is currently available for pre-order and will be out Jan. 14th.

Enter to win a copy of What it Takes in the Goodreads giveaway!

Countdown time!

Y’all, in less than ONE month, What it Takes will officially be out in the world. At this time last year, that book was one crazy hot mess of NaNoWriMo scribbles, completely out of order, 50k of who knows what. Next thing I know, I’m getting a starred review in Publishers Weekly and they’re saying it’s a “tender and beautifully written love story”.

And now….now it’s almost in your hands!

So, a couple of things. First, wanna enter to win a free copy? Head over to Goodreads right here. Free copies of books are awesomesauce, trust me.

Other thing: starting 10 days before release I’ll be tweeting snippets from the book. Keep your eyes out for that. I try to # that but you know, 140 characters is freaking short! I’m not known for my brevity. I’m short but can’t keep it short. Ya know what I mean?

Third thing: I’m on grad school break! I have 3 weeks of FREEDOM. Well, if you call getting book #3 in shape to turn in… This also apparently means I am drowning myself in romance novels. Feel free to recommend one to me if you want, I love new books.

Thing the fourth: I also was thinking about posting excerpts from the book about once a week if y’all are interested? Lemme know. Popular vote wins 😀

As a tiny tease, I’ll give you a small snippet so you guys can get a taste.

~*~

He wakes up and lives his life, but there are days when he doesn’t think he’ll ever get through without Andrew helping him breathe with light touches and easy smiles. If he ever let himself, if he ever gave in to the sweet, silver thread of longing he has for Andrew, he knows he would somehow end up breaking everything.

~*~

What it Takes is currently available for pre-order and will be out Jan. 14th.

Hush is currently for sale at Interlude Press Web Store
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